By Elon Glucklich
The agency coordinating Cascades East Transit regional bus system could ask voters to pay more taxes to prevent further route reductions and possibly to add new ones.
But any move for new taxes in Central Oregon communities is likely three to five years off, members of the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council told Deschutes County commissioners Wednesday.
In the meantime, COIC staff are trying to get more money from cities and community partners, as well as hoping for marketing revenue to spread word about Cascades East Transit’s services and benefit to the region.
COIC formed a Cascades East Transit funding committee last summer, hoping to restore some routes shut down in 2012. The committee has met six times and will finalize its proposals Jan. 24.
In 2012, strapped by a budget deficit and the end of federal stimulus funds, COIC eliminated door-to-door service in rural parts of the region, as well as some services between cities. The cuts didn’t impact Bend operations, which provide its own funds for a fixed-route bus system.
Cascades East Transit has relied on a combination of funds from Central Oregon cities, federal grants and community partnerships to maintain service since the system launched in 2008.
It’s been a popular service with residents who work in Bend or Redmond but live in other communities, COIC Executive Director Andrew Spreadborough told commissioners Wednesday.
But the system “lacks predictable funding,” Spreadborough said.
Cascades East Transit handles about 60,000 passengers each month, transit manager Karen Friend said. Before the cuts, the system took on about 90,000 per month.
Promoting the transit system has been an uphill battle, meanwhile. A survey of Central Oregon registered voters found more than 30 percent of respondents didn’t know the bus system exists, Scott Aycock, COIC’s community development manager, told commissioners.
“There’s a pretty serious lack of ability on our part to do outreach and marketing,” Aycock said.
Finding money for Cascades East Transit has been an issue since it launched.
Communities outside of Bend haven’t provided steady funding streams, Spreadborough said, making it nearly impossible to guarantee services over a long period.
Residents make major decisions based in part on their access to public transportation, like whether to live in one town or another and where in a town to live. COIC has heard from plenty of Central Oregon residents frustrated by service interruptions in the past, Friend said.
“When you create a route, it evolves, and there becomes an expectation that service is going to remain,” she said. People “are very disappointed when you make a change.”
Wednesday’s meeting was meant to give commissioners a look at the issues facing Cascades East Transit. COIC could meet with the county again once it makes final recommendations to guarantee service.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org